Starting a backyard garden
One of the most important things to know when starting a garden is that mistakes will be made, no matter how many books and websites you have surfed and read, things die. Have no fear, though, for this will make you a better gardener. Nothing beats experience.
Not enough sunlight. Vegetable plants require at least six hours of direct sunlight to thrive. Summer vegetables like tomatoes and peppers are especially demanding of full sun. Cool-season crops are a little more forgiving of shade, with lettuce being perhaps the most shade tolerant. This also depends on climate. In the hotter areas of San Diego, afternoon shade is actually welcome.
Poor soil preparation. Soil is perhaps the most critical aspect of a vegetable garden. It must be deep, loose, friable, and nutrient-rich. Incorporating plenty of organic matter in the form of compost or well-rotted manure is the best way to amend soil and keep it healthy. Hard, compacted ground must be tilled or turned. A raised bed is the ideal approach to good soil for small gardens.
Improper plant spacing. Spacing is crucial for allowing the plants to develop fully and to allow plenty of sunlight and airflow (important for disease prevention). Even though new plants look small, they will get much bigger by the time they are producing. When seeding things like carrots, it is important to thin plants to the proper spacing (indicated on the seed packet) after seedlings have emerged.
Improper watering. The amount of watering needed will vary depending on soil and climate conditions. Good garden soil stays moist but is well-drained. Seeds and small seedlings need to be watered at least once a day to keep the soil moist, but not flooded. For established plants, let the top inch of soil dry between watering. Overwatering can be just as bad as under watering.
Fertilizing too much. The most important way to “feed the plants” is to feed the soil with organic matter. This creates a natural micro-ecosystem that enriches the soil. Applying too much chemical fertilizer will cause lush green growth with little or no fruit. Make sure to apply fertilizer exactly as directions indicate. Organic fertilizers are better because they must be broken down by microorganisms to become available to the plant, moderating the nutrient release.